Brandon Vazquez 2

As much as FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan would like to keep forward Brandon Vazquez long-term, he also recognizes the trajectory the club’s breakout star is on.

“I would say that if he continues on this path, he's going to be gone,” Noonan said Wednesday in a year-end media availability. “That's my guess. Do we want to lose him? No. If he continues in the form that he is in, he can produce for us for a long time and that's what we want.

“But the reality is with his age and with this particular position, the goalscorer, he's going to be a hot commodity. I don't expect that he is going to be a part of this group if the production continues at the rate that it did in 2022.”

The 24-year-old is coming off a season where he notched 18 goals and eight assists in 33 games, the spearhead of arguably MLS’s best attacking trio while playing alongside strike partner Brenner and midfield playmaker Luciano Acosta. All the while, serious (and possibly impotent) buzz emerged around him possibly pushing onto either the Mexico or US roster for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

That all helped fuel FCC’s first-ever Audi MLS Cup Playoffs berth, earning the Eastern Conference’s No. 5 seed while kicking three straight dead-last finishes into the dustbin.

Such success begets interest, and Vazquez signed a long-term contract in late August that keeps him tied to the Orange & Blue through the 2025 season with an option for 2026. But that doesn’t necessarily deter suitors, and he was linked to European and Mexican teams over the summer.

“For Brandon, the person [and] the player, if other opportunities come about and he's able to go onto something bigger and better, I think that's fantastic,” Noonan said. “I think it's a sign of players being able to be a part of our staff and this club, being in position to develop to play at a higher level, wherever that is, whatever that means.

“So, again, we want Brandon here for a long time. But when you score goals, others are going to take notice of that and he is going to be sought after.”

Brenner outlook

In a similar vein, Noonan expects transfer interest to follow around Brenner, their club-record signing from Brazilian side Sao Paulo (reported $13 million). He turns 23 ahead of the 2023 MLS season and is coming off a level-up sophomore campaign with FCC, tallying 18g/6a in 29 games.

“His production and his age and his ceiling, the conversations in the coming months will certainly revolve around is there a potential move? We understand that,” Noonan said of the Designated Player. “But we're approaching it as he's going to be back to start the year and how can we get him to be even a better version of himself than we saw in 2022 and even that second half of the season when he was producing for us?”

Brenner CIN

These conversations are all part of Cincy’s growth, going from perennial MLS also-rans to a club building off considerable strides made under Noonan and general manager Chris Albright. The ex-Philadelphia Union duo just logged their first full season, reinvigorating the club.

Naturally, they hope to build off 2022’s run that ended with a Conference Semifinal exit against the Union after a Round One road upset victory over the New York Red Bulls.

“I think that's important, that we got to this point, and to be able to take those experiences and hopefully start 2023 strong is a good thing,” Noonan said. “But what I've also said is now we're not surprising anybody in 2023. So it's only going to get more difficult, which is a good thing.”